11/21/18

Back during the dark days of 1929, a group of ministers in the Northeast gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving Sunday services. Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief. The bread lines were long, the stock market had crashed, and the Great Depression described both the economy and the attitude of the day. Some thought that they should only lightly touch upon the subject of Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them.  But Dr. William L. Stiger, pastor of a large congregation said that this was not the time to give mere passing mention to Thanksgiving, just the opposite. This was the time for the nation to get matters in perspective and thank God for blessings always present – in spite of intense hardships.

Those ministers discovered the great truth that the most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of the darkest days of the civil war.

How appropriate to gather tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving 2018 and to be reminded to be thankful – and to take time out to thank God for ALL things – not just the biggies! We learn to be thankful – hopefully early in life. As a child, my mother reminded Sam & I to say thank you whenever someone gave us something.  If we forgot to thank them immediately, she would say, “What do you saaaay?”

How hard it is at times to be thankful – especially when dealing with the “stuff” in everyday life that can drain our thankful attitude and lifestyle. A thankful heart is not dependent upon circumstances – but attitude.  A lovely senior-aged nurse was seen saying a simple grace over a meager meal. (Thanks for the vittles, Lord.)  When asked why she was thankful for so little, she responded, “When I bless my food, it makes everything taste better!”

Paul reminds us that every Christian disciple is called to be thankful.  Have you ever thought that being a part of the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus calls us to be thankful?  It is not something we work at – it is something we do by instinct. The Holy Spirit’s work of transformation changes our DNA so we can be people who exude gratitude. Part of our day in and day out lifestyle is one that shows appreciation and thankfulness for EVERYTHING.

It is good to have Thanksgiving Day as a part of our Holiday season.  We start thankful & remain that way as we anticipate Christmas.  A disciple is called by God to be thankful and Paul reminds us that there are 3 places where our thanksgiving identity is strengthened and deepened:

We are more thankful when we let the peace of Christ rule our heart. Paul reminds us in Philippians that the peace of God transcends all human understanding.  Living into and living with the peace of God is something we cannot generate on our own – it is a gift of God that provides strength in the midst of our greatest struggles, worries and the “stuff” of life. God’s peace provides an outlook and lifestyle of thankfulness that radically changes us and our relationships.

Just out of school, a young man was being interviewed for the accountant’s job by a very nervous business owner of a small business that he had started himself.  “I need someone with an accounting degree, but mainly, I’m looking for someone to do my worrying for me. I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.”  “I see,” the accountant said. “And how much does the job pay?”  “I’ll start you at $80,000,” said the businessman.  The accountant exclaimed. “80,000! How can such a small business afford a sum like that?”  The businessman said, “That is your first worry!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pay somebody to do our worrying for us? It is amazing how many things we can find to stress us out – even at Thanksgiving. We are thankful for the God who promises to always provide for our needs and that promise brings true peace…if we let God do our worrying for us!

We are more thankful when we let the word of God dwell in our hearts. The more we learn about God the more thankful we become! When we get into the word of God, the word gets into us and amazing things happen.  We discover who God really is and what God is like.  We also discover who we are – and that God has big plans for us.

Of the thousands of sentiments printed on greeting cards, perhaps one of the most touching is this simple statement: “Thanks for being you.” If you receive that card, you know that someone cares for you not because you did something spectacular for that person but because you’re appreciated for your essence. I wonder if this kind of sentiment might indicate for us one of the best ways to say “thank you” to God. Sure, there are times when God intervenes in our lives in a tangible way, and we say something like, “Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to get that job.” But most often, we can simply say, “Thank You, God, for being who You are – the Almighty God of the universe!” That’s reason enough for us to stop what we’re doing and praise and thank Him. Thank You, God, for just being You!

We are more thankful when we do everything we do for Jesus’ glory.  We cannot do anything to earn God’s love and grace – God chose to love us and to pour out his grace upon us.  However, our attitude of gratitude is our way of thanking God every day for everything God has, is and will do for us.  In a sense, gratitude is an expression of modesty. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude – hoda’ah – is the same as the word for confession. To offer thanks is to confess dependence, to acknowledge that God has the power to benefit us, to admit that our life is better because of God’s efforts.

How well are you living into your calling of a grateful disciple these days?  It has been a tough year for many people in our church family and community. Have circumstances, struggles or challenges caused you to lose your focus on Jesus and make you forget your calling to be thankful in everything?  Tonight, we remember the God who came and who never leaves us. Come to the table and be filled again by God’s grace that brings true thanksgiving for every disciple.